There are five declared candidates for the Senate District 31 seat whom a Democratic vacancy committee will consider appointing at a Thursday night meeting.
The current officeholder, Lois Court, announced on Jan. 6 that she would resign due to a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the nervous system. Her last day in office is Jan. 16, more than one week into the legislative session.
Candidates to fill the remaining year of her term include a sitting state representative, a turnaround consultant, and an environmental activist. Climate change, reducing healthcare costs and gun control were issues they mentioned they would pursue in response to a questionnaire from Colorado Politics. Most of them committed to carrying at least one of Court’s introduced bills through to the end of the session.
Per law, the political party of the legislator vacating a seat is entitled to choose a successor for the unexpired term. A Democratic committee will meet at 6 p.m. at Christ Church United Methodist, 690 Colorado Boulevard. Although the committee will take nominations from the floor, only the declared candidates will be on the printed ballot. Alphabetically, they are:
Chris Hansen is the state representative for House District 6 and had already declared his intent to run for the Senate seat in November.
“My number one priority as a legislator is and will always be to fight against climate change,” he said. He would propose bills to create a renewable gas standard, to allow electric vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to consumers, and to make the state prioritize low-carbon construction materials for infrastructure projects.
A member of the Joint Budget Committee, Hansen believes that repealing the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is necessary to adequately fund education. The 1992 constitutional amendment “has suffocated our ability to adequately fund our schools, which is why we are 39th in per pupil funding despite having one of the best economies in the country," he wrote.
He added that he has been working with the Polis administration and legislators to develop a long-term, dedicated funding source for transportation because the gas tax is “unsustainable” given inflation and the greater fuel efficiency of vehicles.
“There is a significant learning curve to being an effective state legislator,” he wrote. “I believe that my experience serving and chairing multiple House committees, two bicameral committees, co-sponsoring hundreds of bills, helping craft our state’s multi-billion dollar budget, and taking on some of Colorado’s most difficult challenges, has prepared me to seamlessly step into the role of state senator.”
Hansen would continue Court’s efforts to combat distracted driving.
Robert Messman was recently a turnaround consultant. He felt skeptical that more money is needed for education and transportation.
“The first thing my clients asked for was more money. My answer was first to eliminate waste, inefficiency and misuse, mismanagement, and then determine the real needs,” he wrote. “I would take the same approach with these problems. I view this job not as Santa Claus but as a fiduciary of wise spending for the taxpayers.”
Messman declined to indicate what legislation he would sponsor, but mentioned that his interests are healthcare, infrastructure, transportation and education. He cited his former job as director of the HealthCare for All Colorado Foundation in stating that a “simple turnaround” in the healthcare system would free up billions of dollars.
He wrote that he is used to entering an intense situation as a turnaround consultant and becoming acclimated quickly. “You almost always enter the job just before a collapse and must learn about the problems and issues rapidly and provide solutions on the fly,” he said. “I will immediately look for colleagues and mentors to help me get up to speed fast and use the talents I have honed over my business career to learn on the job.”
Messman did not commit to running for the full four-year term in November, but said he would “if I find that I enjoy the current term and can be effective.”
He wrote that he believes that Court would meet with him about her current bills and he would “support what makes sense to me for the voters.”
Olivia Miller would join the effort to pass paid family leave and would also introduce legislation to create a waiting period for gun purchases. She feels the General Assembly should do more on gun safety issues.
“I have grown up in an era of mass shootings and I would like to do my part to keep the people of Colorado safe,” she wrote. “I will advocate for safe gun use and support any gun safety legislation that comes through.”
Miller said she would join efforts to repeal or reform the various constitutional provisions that limit revenue, including TABOR and the 1982 Gallagher Amendment. She called it “distressing” that Colorado has so many school districts on four-day weeks and ranks poorly in teacher pay.
“I support revisiting the gas tax to find a way to generate new revenue for transportation and account for the number of electric vehicles now on the road,” she added.
Miller said she would bring a “fresh perspective” as a new legislator. If she is not selected to fill the vacancy, Miller would consider running for the full four-year term, but has not yet decided.
She would sponsor Court’s current legislation to create a legislative oversight committee of tax policy and to require more information about proposed tax expenditures.
Maria Orms is a telecommunications manager and a former network engineer in the U.S. Air Force. She was already seeking the Senate seat in November.
“CLIMATE CRISIS” (her emphasis) was the issue she believes the General Assembly has not paid enough attention to.
“My first call to action would be a declaration for our climate emergency,” she wrote. “Next, we need to pause all fracking permits.” She added that Denver is in an ozone non-attainment area, referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s December announcement that it would classify the Denver metro area’s ozone problem as “serious.”
To fund education and transportation, Orms would turn to the extraction industry for revenue.
“We need to raise severance taxes from oil and gas. In addition, we must remove the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax expenditures that we are granting to corporations,” she said.
Orms pointed to her five years of testifying before the General Assembly on behalf of a clean energy nonprofit as an indication that she is prepared to begin legislating immediately. “Through my years of activism, I am very much in touch with the people in our communities, and this puts me in a better position than other candidates,” she wrote.
Orms would want to carry Court’s current legislation to create a legislative oversight committee of tax policy and to require more information about proposed tax expenditures.
W. Douglas Williams did not respond to the request for comment.